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48              A SEARCH IN SECRET EGYPT
to Cairo. How many old mansions, mosques and forts of the Egyptian capital hide within their thick walls to-day the hieroglyph inscriptions that once covered the four faces of the Great Pyramid? Part of the graceful mosque of Sultan Hassan, acknowledged to be the most beautiful of Cairo's three hundred mosques, was built with these casing-blocks.
There are enough stones in the structure to build the houses of a fair-sized town—such is the immense amount of material it contains, and they would have carried off the entire Pyramid, too, but they found that the cost and labour and time of unwedging even a single one of the enormous blocks which compose its body was so utterly disproportionate to its value and so difficult a task that they gave up the idea as hopeless. Nevertheless, they did not learn this lesson until they had removed the topmost courses of masonry and thus deprived the Pyramid of its apex.
Nor is the entrance which visitors use to-day the original entrance which was used by the ancient Egyptians themselves. The, latter remained a mystery, a secret kept and guarded by the Pyramid for several centuries before its rediscovery by a determined Arab king, who spent a fortune and set an army of labourers at work to wrest this secret of its sealed opening from its reluctant grasp, The innermost passages and chambers of the Great Pyramid had defied Greek and Roman ruler alike, as they had defied the uninitiated Egyptians, and with the passing of the Romans though the legend of its entrance persisted, the location of that entrance became unknown.
From the time that it was closed and sealed, centuries passed peacefully over its untouched interior, until, at last, it was broken into by men in quest of its fabled treasure, and the long sleep was disturbed. Not till the year 820 of our era was that location determined, when the Caliph Al Mamoun gathered his best engineers, architects, builders and workmen together on the little plateau of Gizeh and bade them open the Pyramid. "O king, it cannot possibly be done/' said the chief men. "I will have it certainly done/7 he replied.
They had to work without chart or plan, but were guided by an old tradition that the entrance was on the northern side. They naturally chose a point in the middle of that side for their great attempt, goaded all the time by the watchful presence of the Caliph, who wanted to test the truth of old legends that vast treasures had been hidden inside the Pyramid by forgotten